Home » Years » 2017 » Ghost in the Shell •••

Ghost in the Shell •••

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, Takeshi Kitano
Director: Rupert Sanders
Screenplay: Shirow Masamune, Jamie Moss
Action/Crime/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 107 minutes
Release Date: March 31, 2017


It’s time to review that Police album Ghost in the Machine.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, it’s pretty clear you’re a Shell of your former self. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) – a woman who died but had her brain implanted in a new mechanical body – a shell. Unlike other mechanical objects (robots, for example), her brain allows her to keep her soul – her ghost. But having her ghost stored in a shell comes with a price. Mr Cutter (Peter Ferdinando) of the military organization Section 9 wants her to be a weapon – a soldier.

Major Killian is bothered by how little she knows about her past. She breaks up a terrorist attack and kills a robotic geisha in the process. In an attempt to hack the geisha, Killian finds herself hacked by the evil source of the terrorist attack, a dark entity known as Kuze (Michael Pitt). Killian’s sidekick Batou (Pilou Asbæk) is able to rescue her from the hack, but this only strengthens Killian’s and Section 9’s resolve to defeat Kuze.

Scott, Ghost in the Shell is an amazing bit of cinematography and CGI – but aside from its name, it lacks any soul. Scarlett Johansson suffers from the same problem in this film as she has in the Avengers movies and her last film Lucy – she’s emotionless. Johanson is in a strange place in this film. On the one hand, she has to act like a robot, but still have the emotions of a human. But she never finds the sweet spot between stoicism and emotion. We’re left with a dull presentation and a passionless film.

Greg, Johanssson’s emotionless portrayal worked for me here because of her backstory as a mostly cybernetic entity. For the most part, Ghost in the Shell works as a movie because it ambitiously attempts to cover a lot of philosophical and spiritual bases. The film delves into several thorny questions relating to artificial intelligence, such as (a) where one draws the line between biological and synthetic organisms; (b) when is our humanity lost once technologies operate most of our bodies; and (c) what rights do robots have in relation to biological entities. There are also numerous references to one’s “ghost” or spirit – the thing that truly makes us human and distinct. I find this to be an interesting issue.

So I enjoyed this movie’s effort to explore interesting ethical issues and for visually anticipating a futuristic urban landscape that is both daunting and jarring. Future humans are portrayed as death-averse to the extreme. People are transforming into machines, with our brains as the only thing separating us from pure robotic intelligence, and even those brains are implanted with memory chips. It’s an eerie yet realistic view of the trajectory of our society.

This movie didn’t deal with those thorny issues, though, Scott. It merely threw them on the screen as bait for the audience. Star Trek: The Next Generation actually did deal with these topics with Mr. Data – the android who was trying to be more human. But all Major really ever wrestled with was her own identity.

In this way, Major is strongly reminiscent of Jason Bourne from the Bourne movies. Her past is erased, she’s given a superbly strong body, and the skills to be the perfect soldier/weapon. If you take Bourne and drop him into the world of The Matrix – you pretty much have Ghost in the Shell.

That’s a good comparison. Killian stars in the Bourntrix. And her hero’s journey does indeed consists of her search for self identity. With regard to transformation, we see characters and society on a steady path of metamorphosis. Earlier I mentioned society’s transformation toward losing its humanity, its “soul” or ghost as this movie puts it. I would call this a physical, mental, and spiritual transformation of society. We discuss the nature of transformations in the movies in our latest book Reel Heroes & Villains.

At the individual level, we witness Killian discovering some basic truths about Section 9 and the morality of the people she works for. She also realizes that the enemy she is fighting is actually a test subject much like herself who is fighting an ethical battle to stop the exploitation of impoverished humans kidnapped for testing. Killian also uncovers the truth about herself and her past, suggesting a mental transformation. So we have a lot going on with regard to heroic self-discovery and transformation here.

I think the movie waters down its message by having so many goals at once. Major’s main issue, from the start of the movie until its end, is belonging. She feels alienated from the world as she’s the only one of her kind. Later she learns that she was part of an anarchist commune where she found a sense of family among other runaways in the “lawless zone.” Ultimately, she’s reunited with her true mother and becomes a member of what’s left of Section 9 (reminiscent of the fate of S.H.I.E.L.D from the Avengers movies). In the end she is transformed from a loner to a team player.

Ghost in the Shell is a visual marvel. The futuristic dystopian world reminded me of Blade Runner, but with amazing CGI in place of practical effects. But the movie lacked a heart and didn’t keep me interested. I give it 3 out of 5 Reels.

Major as played by Scarlett Johansson is dull and emotionless. We’re hardly concerned for her when she takes risks or comes close to death. It’s hard to get excited about a character who never gets excited over anything. I give her just 3 Heroes out of 5.

Ghost has too many messages to make for a coherent movie: loss of soul, need for family, need for togetherness, need for humanity, need for authentic experiences. The ultimate transformation for Major gets watered down. We hardly care that she’s found her way among her Section 9 counterparts at the film’s end. I give her transformation 3 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Ghost in the Shell is a highly creative and disturbing look at the future of humanity, a future in which humans are obsessed with cybernetic implants and governments corruptly use advanced human-technology hybrids to do their dirty spy work. It’s a grisly extrapolation of our current societal trends and it doesn’t bode well for the future of our human race. The story is a by-the-numbers spy thriller that is enjoyable but doesn’t quite live up to the exemplary CGI effects. I award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey is packed full of the classic elements of the hero’s quest in myth and literature. Our hero Killian is sent on a journey that dramatically transforms her physical body. Her work in Section 9 leads to the illumination of her true identity, and she discovers who her true friends and enemies are. As befitting a good hero, Killian is transformed mentally and emotionally as she uncovers the truth about her past and the people around her. I give her heroism a total of 4 Hero points out of 5.

I’ve mentioned the many ways that Killian is transformed and how these transformations operate in parallel with the disturbing ways that our future society is transformed in this film. While these transformations are interesting and abundant, they don’t pack as much punch as they should. Perhaps the impotence of these transformation is due to their predictability and also to the understated performance of Johansson. I award these transformations a total of 3 transformation deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

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